Todd Mertz: A Letter from the Inside
Friends and Colleagues,
Governor-elect Rauner becomes Governor Rauner on Monday. (That was difficult to type)
Although we are all exhausted from fighting for our constitutionally protected pensions over the last five years, we have to be ready to get back in the ring. But this time the fight is going to include much more than pensions.
We know that Rauner will be the most unfriendly Illinois Governor in history for teachers and public education. He has vowed to come after our collective bargaining rights, push for right-to-work laws (also known as "right-to-work for less" laws), increase the number of charter schools even though study after study prove they do not outperform traditional public schools, and dump us all into a 401(k) plan with absolutely no guarantee of anything in retirement.
Of course, he also said that Illinois teachers are 23% overpaid.
In regards to the pension theft bill (SB1) that was signed into law, Wednesday's Tribune article titled, "Illinois Government Worker Pension System Remains Big Issue for Rauner, stated "It's a law that Rauner lobbied against, arguing it did not go far enough."
I believe that we are going to be in for the fight of our lifetime regarding our careers. It is going to get ugly. Really ugly.
Attacks on teachers and public employees pitted neighbor against neighbor in Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio.
But some of my friends have tried to reassure me that, unlike our neighboring states, we have a very heavy Democratic base in the IL House and Senate. In fact, supermajority in the House.
But House Speaker Madigan and Senate President Cullerton are no friends of teachers and state employees. They managed to get 62 votes in the House and 30 votes in the Senate to pass an illegal bill (SB1) that cuts teachers and state employees' pensions by up to 50% in retirement.
I also believe that Rauner will package his plans/budget in a way that may get our legislators to reluctantly go for the bait, despite the bills being devastating for schools and educators. Rauner is smart and manipulative, and he will get what he wants.
If the Pension Bill (SB1) is Ruled Unconstitutional, What Is Plan B?
If the Illinois Supreme Court Justices rule in our favor (which I believe they will), I predict that instead of fixing Illinois' problem (revenue), the attacks on teachers and state employees will become even more vicious.
Cullerton, for instance, has even suggested that if SB1 is ruled unconstitutional, our salaries could be frozen indefinitely, because, he says, they aren't protected by the Illinois Constitution.
As I have written about before, some legislators want to amend the IL Constitution to reduce or eliminate our protections. Not an easy task and many hoops to jump through, but if Rauner gets behind this and makes a case for Illinois citizens to vote against protecting our pensions, we could be in big trouble. Rep Joe Sosnowski of Rockford has vowed to bring this legislation forward in the spring.
Others have said that an option (requiring proper forthcoming legislation) would be to fire every teacher and state employee and rehire them with a fraction of their benefits and zero pension obligations.
In fact, I wrote about this back on July 1, 2013. In Chicago Now (owned by the Tribune) John Tillman, CEO of the conservative Illinois Policy Institute think tank, states, "Fire all the state employees. Replace them with contract employees. Then we don't have to worry about shelling out for extravagant and backbreaking pensions."
Tillman wants to replace trained, educated, and certified Illinois teachers with low-paid, temp employees with no benefits.
And so does Rauner.
The "Perfect Storm"
There are four possibilities that could happen very soon--each of which would be devastating for public education and the teaching field. I am not an education finance expert, but I do know that it would be unimaginable if any, or all, of these proposed plans come to fruition:
1. Shifting the Pension Costs. Madigan, and others, want to wipe their hands from any future pension obligations. They want to pass that responsibility on to local school districts, which have already been operating on a skeleton budget for years. Most districts have laid off teachers and support staff and watched their class sizes balloon. Historically, teachers pay 9.4% of each paycheck to TRS. The state IS SUPPOSED to pay about 7-8% (varies). That additional 7-8% would be inconceivable for most school districts.
2. State Income Tax to Rollback From 5% to 3.75%. Unfortunately, there was not enough support in Springfield in the fall to stop this scheduled rollback. This lack of already low revenue is going to most likely impact education funding. Legislators have already agreed to let this rollback happen and let Rauner deal with it. This will mean that our state will have $6 billion less in revenue over the next year and a half.
3. SB16. This bill unfortunately does not increase funding for education in our state, but instead changes how the funds are distributed. Suburban districts would see an enormous hit from the state. My district alone, Indian Prairie District 204 in Naperville, would see a $10.1 million loss in state funding over the next four years.
4. Freezing Property Taxes. Rauner's campaign promise included freezing property taxes statewide. If any of the above three events happen, towns and cities would have no choice but to raise property taxes to fund education...unless Rauner succeeds at freezing them. School funding and education would be starved.
Of course, purposely starving education funding would be a great strategy for Rauner to build public support statewide for corporate and private interests to infiltrate or replace our public school system as we know it.
I hope I am wrong about all of this. Every bit of it.
But just in case I'm not, leave your legislators on your speed dial.